Big Blue Workers See Red

IBM senior engineer Bill Syverson is middle class, middle-aged and middle of the road. And now he's going through a new kind of midlife crisis, reports CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger.

"My retirement earnings have been slashed considerably," he says. "The younger employees have tremendous additional benefits."

IBM recently changed its pension program to a so-called cash balance plan where pension payments which used to be fixed now depend on a complex formula linked to investment funds.

Older workers who have done the math believe they could lose more than 20 percent of their pensions because they won't have as much time to accumulate money in their retirement funds as younger workers. And that, they say, is age discrimination.

"That is wrong," says Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders. "We think it's against the law and we're going to pursue it vigorously."

Sanders is pushing to have the new pension plans reviewed by federal agencies, including the IRS. He has gotten some support in Washington, but lots of support here in Burlington.

About 700 IBM employees packed a college auditorium to protest the changes and draw the attention of IBM chief Lou Gerstner.

"You've come looking for a fight IBM? Well, you've got one," said IBM worker Gavin Wright.

"Send a letter to Lou Gerstner telling him how much you hate this change and how much you think it is a threat to the moral fiber of this country in terms of financing the retirement for the American middle class," said Tim Barritt, another IBM employee.

In a written statement IBM said its new plan is still more generous than its competitors. The company said it paid $1 billion in salary increases last year and $1.6 billion in incentive pay.

But now these employees, usually considered quiet and conservative, are talking of more protests, maybe even a union.

And guess who was selected to lead the workers: Bill Syverson, formerly among the most true blue employees of Big Blue.

Syverson says he's never done anything like this before and isn't sure how he'll proceed. "Ask me in a couple of weeks," he says.

Syverson is still pretty buttoned down. The difference is, after all this, he's also pretty fired up.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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